A Harvard Medical School professor accused of plagiarizing a review of rheumatoid arthritis treatments turned in his resignation last week, over a year after the alleged infraction.
The allegedly offending professor, Lee S. Simon, had his article in the biomedical journal “Best Practices & Research: Clinical Rheumatology” retracted last year.
The retraction came after a data-comparison search engine found that about half the text of the article was taken verbatim from a paper published in 2003.
Though he had not spoken directly with Simon about the matter, Simon M. Helfgott, a rheumatologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said that he believed Simon had intimated to others that the paper had been written by a third party before he himself signed off on it.
“Unfortunately for him, that is not a defense that is acceptable,” Helfgott said.
Helfgott added that Harvard needs to set an example and has no choice but to discipline these cases.
Several sources including Helfgott said that at the time of the alleged incident, Simon was only peripherally involved with the University, though he maintained his title at the Medical School and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
According to Helfgott, Simon has not seen patients at Beth Israel for over a decade. Beth Israel spokesperson Jerry Berger confirmed that Simon had not practiced at the hospital for over a year.
“His involvement has been very minimal, virtually non-existent,” Helfgott said. “He was able to keep his title going, but obviously that is not the case any more.”
Roy M. Fleischmann, the author of the allegedly plagiarized study, said that he had not heard that Simon had resigned. He said that no one from Harvard has contacted him in the past year.
Fleischmann said that as an author of an article that was apparently duplicated, his only expectation was that the plagiarized article was retracted.
“It is up to the University and Medical Center whether to take other actions,” he said. “It is not up to me. I get justice when it is retracted.”
George C. Tsokos, who heads the rheumatology department at Beth Israel said that he has not interacted with Simon in over a year.
“I know Harvard was doing an investigation and I was not privy to that at all,” Tsokos said. He added that no members of his division have been consulted by the reviewing committee.
“The last two years he was not associated with the division in any way,” Tsokos said. “He is not on my payroll, let’s put it that way.”
Harold “Skip” R. Garner, Jr., who designed the search engine eTBLAST, which helped spot the duplication in Simon’s article last year, said in an e-mailed statement that it was “regrettable” that Simon would not longer be at Harvard.”
Garner added that he did not understand the circumstances behind Simon’s resignation.
“I don’t know what role our study, which identified similarity between his manuscript and a previous one by Dr. Roy Fleischmann played in his decision to resign,” Garner wrote.
—Staff writer Laura G. Mirviss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org